LeBron James lauds Kevin Durant


MIAMI -- LeBron James says no one can guard Kevin Durant without help.

"Individually, he can't be stopped by any one-on-one player," James said. "There's nobody that can guard him one-on-one."

James, in a reversal from his pleas in previous seasons, also says he'd like to play more minutes as the Heat enter the meat of their schedule.

"I'm not playing as many minutes as I would like, but Spo is in control of that," James said Tuesday of coach Erik Spoelstra as the  Miami Heat prepared to face the West-leading  Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday (7 p.m., ESPN). "I don't like playing less, I don't feel like I need to play less."

While Durant has soared recently with 11 straight 30-point games, James has seen his numbers dip.  He is playing 36.9 minutes through 43 games this season, the fewest of his career, as Spoelstra attempts to save some wear and tear.  He's averaging the fewest points (26) since his rookie season, the fewest rebounds (6.9) in seven years, the fewest steals (1.3) and blocks (0.3) of his career and fewer assists than last season. He's also taking a career-low 16.4 shots a game while shooting a career-best 58 percent.

But while James is often very aware of his numbers, he may not realize that Spoelstra has been playing him more. After averaging 37 minutes during 14 games in December, James has played 39 minutes per game in January. Some of that is because Dwyane Wade has missed five games this month.

Still, James, who has complained about Spoelstra playing him too many minutes in the past, wants more.  "I can understand we've been playing a lot of basketball, so Spo is monitoring that as well," James said. "Don't ever put it out there that LeBron wants to play less."

James' comments could be tied to his interest in the Most Valuable Player race. 

Durant's roll -- he's averaging 38.5 points in his past 11 games, shooting 64 percent over his past six and guiding the Thunder to the best record in the Western Conference at 36-10 even without Russell Westbrook for 21 games so far -- has James marveling. If the season were to end today, voters likely would tab Durant to hoist the league's MVP trophy over James, who has gotten it in four of the past five seasons.

James insists that he's not fixated on the MVP race, especially because the season is barely half over.  Maybe he's not, but it's entertaining to watch the two superstars square off.

It's Heat vs. Thunder, not James vs. Durant one-on-one. But James will guard Durant at times Wednesday night when Miami hosts Oklahoma City in a matchup of the 2012 NBA Finals teams.

Perhaps fortunately for James, it's never been a mano a mano scoring matchup, or else the win-loss records might be a bit different.

In 16 meetings of their teams to date, Durant has outscored James nine times. But James' teams are 13-3 in those games, including Miami's 4-1 series victory in the 2012 Finals. As long as that trend continues Wednesday, James likely won't care -- not much, anyway -- about the individual numbers at game's end.

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